It was a mammoth project to undertake, even measured by the standards of the New York Times, recognised as “the newspaper of record” and one the greatest and most influential publications in the world.
And here it is — no less than 193 harrowing articles, from 193 countries (representing all member-states of the United Nations), by 193 reporters, drawing on every journalistic tool at their disposal, focused on how climate change — decidedly the deadliest threat facing humanity today — is already reshaping our world.
Published online on Monday as a bundle under the title “Postcards from a World on Fire”, the articles evoke infernal images of a coming apocalypse where “economies are crushed and lives ruined, cities are swallowed by dust and human history is drowned by the sea”.
By the looks of it, the scientific community too appears to believe in the imminence of this doomsday scenario, with its members already busy, as news reports had it last week, constructing a vault, roughly the size of a bus, on the Australian island of Tasmania that will chart the Earth’s global warming patterns and record the missteps taken by humanity that ultimately destroyed it as a species — a vault that effectively plays the same role as the one on a flight recorder, known as the Black Box, which records the missteps made in a plane’s final moments before it crashes.
No science fiction
Science fiction? No, science fact. And because it’s science fact let’s hope that particular Black Box never gets to be opened one day by a surviving remnant of our fellow-humans.
Folks, climate change, which is, to say it again, the deadliest existential threat facing humanity in our time, will soon reach — if it has not already reached, as some experts aver — the tipping point beyond which it may become irreversible.
Look, throughout human history, we, along with our philosophers, poets, ethicists and other sages, have pondered over the consequences of issues like war, poverty, inequality, moral values, revolution and the rest of it. But our generation is the first in that history to ever ponder over the issue of imminent destruction by way of global warming. It’s new. It’s weird. But, above all, it’s scary.
And if the prospect of man’s actual or potential annihilation does not scare the bejesus out of us, it is difficult to say what would. You see, ours is not only a generation pondering over an issue it never pondered over before in human history, but is also one tasked (yes, that’s the right word) with having to find ways to save the human race, along with other living species inhabiting this at once fragile and beautiful planet of ours, from extinction.
In effect, only our generation determines whether we survive or perish, because it will be too late for our children’s generation to avail themselves of the luxury of pondering. It is a task, you must admit, of unimaginable gravity.
And, yes, our children know that.
Humanity is doomed
Young people worldwide, it seems, appear aware of this horrifying truth. Last Thursday, for example, a study published in the scientific journal, The Lancet Planetary Health, revealed that 74 per cent of global citizens under the age of 25 believe that their governments are letting them down when it comes to aggressive handling of the problem and 56 per cent felt that “humanity was doomed”.
The most famous personage in this age group, Swedish teenage activist Greta Thurberg, minced no words and left no doubt recently about where she stood on the question of the collective responsibility of her generation to speak up. She declared (or was it hollered?): “Adults keep saying they owe it to young people, to give them hope. But I don’t want your hope. I don’t want you to be hopeful. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I feel everyday. I want you to act. I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if the house is on fire — because it is”.
I say climate change is an issue that, at the end of the day, relates to the organic nexus that binds humanity to nature or, if you wish, the social system to the ecosystem.
Man does not — as Western man, who wants to “tame” nature, “conquer” space and “kill” time”, imagines — have domain over Earth. Humans rather are from and of Earth and to Earth they will return when it is their time. Man is never and cannot at any time along his evolutionary continuum ever become “dominant” over it or “master” of it.
We neither own nor have domain over this planet we inhabit. We simply hold it in trust for our children, who will do the same for theirs.
“We do not inherit the earth of our ancestors”, a Native American proverb has it. “We borrow it from our children”.
If we did indeed borrow the bounty of our acre from our children, it is thus not honourable to pass on our debt to them.
— Fawaz Turki is a journalist, academic and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile